Dodgers family expresses gratitude for Jobe
Tommy John pioneer was in his 50th season with the club
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley was an 18-year-old right out of high school when he met Dr. Frank Jobe for the first time.
Jobe gave Billingsley his first shoulder and elbow exam as a professional ball player.
Legendary Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser was a seasoned veteran and 32 years old when Jobe changed the path of his career.
Hershiser won 99 regular-season games before Jobe operated on his shoulder in 1990. He won 105 games after the procedure.
On Friday, Billingsley, Hershiser and several members of the Dodgers family expressed their gratitude and shared memories of the famous doctor whose work saved their throwing arms and extended their careers.
A World War II veteran and sports medicine pioneer, Jobe is best-known in baseball circles for transplanting a tendon to replace the torn ulnar collateral ligament of Dodgers left-hander Tommy John in 1974 and putting in place a procedure that has prolonged the careers of ballplayers at every level.
Jobe died Thursday at the age of 88.
"There's no question he is a pioneer, and I think that's the best word you can use for him, and I think he would have appreciated that title," Stan Conte, Dodgers vice president, medical services, said. "In baseball, he is Godfather of sports medicine, for sure. Most time when a surgery is performed for the first time, it is modified a lot of different times and mutated to get better, but this surgery is the same as it was back in 1974, with a few exceptions. That tells you he was right on the mark in what he was trying to do."
Jobe was in his 50th season with the Dodgers.
"I was on cloud nine from being drafted in the first round, but what the Dodgers organization really put in the guys' minds was the history of the organization, and he was definitely one of the guys you would hear discussed," said Billingsley, who had Tommy John surgery last summer. "With instructors and people in the organization, his name would come up all of the time for what he has done for the Dodgers."
Jobe was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., during an awards ceremony last summer, and by all accounts, he will be remembered as a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.
"If there's a medical wing of the Hall of Fame, he should definitely be in the Hall of Fame," said Hershiser, who now serves as a broadcaster for the team. "He's touched more wins and more saves and more at-bats than anybody in baseball history. He's extended the joy of every baseball fan because he allowed great players and any big leaguer to get back on the field and contribute to the excitement and joys of their careers."
Said Conte: "In all due respect to the Hall of Fame, they need to fix this if there is a category for pioneers in baseball in the Hall of Fame. The professional baseball athletic society has been lobbying for years and years to get him in. I'm so glad that they honored him last year. It was a huge thing in his life to be honored by the Hall of Fame. That said, I think it's time to put someone like him in the Hall of Fame."
Several other players in the Dodgers' clubhouse have first-hand experience with Jobe's famous surgical procedure.
Dodgers pitching prospect Ross Stripling is set to have Tommy John surgery, and reliever Brian Wilson has had two Tommy John surgeries. Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu had the procedure while in high school.
"I didn't know the doctor, but I am really regretful to hear this news because he invented a procedure that nobody else had thought of, and I'm especially grateful because it prolonged my baseball career and allowed me to pitch in the Major Leagues for the Dodgers," Ryu said.
Outfielder Carl Crawford had Tommy John surgery in 2012.
"I don't know if I would have stopped playing, but I know I would be playing in a lot of pain right now," Crawford said. "Treatment every day. It would have been painful for me. Guys come back throwing harder and stronger, playing longer. I'm pretty sure that surgery has saved plenty of careers."
Dodgers pitcher Scott Elbert had the surgery on his left arm last June.
"I'm obviously still bouncing back from it, but if it wasn't for what he did for everybody else, I wouldn't be here," he said. "He resurrected so many careers of guys that thought they were done as soon as they got hurt. It's a tremendous thing that he did, and I'm thankful for everything that he's done."
A patriot and a pioneer, Jobe's legacy extends beyond the Dodgers' clubhouse. His work will continue to impact future generations.
"Now the success rate is so good that I'm sure that many years ago before the surgery came along that a guy like Ross Stripling, a young guy with high hopes, if this would have happened to him it would have been like his career is over," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Now it happens and it's like, '12 months from now, he'll be close to pitching again,' and you almost assume that he's going to come back just as good or better."